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Good Old-Fashioned Happy and Joy

John-kricfalusi
Courtesy photo

John Kricfalusi has staked out some idiosyncratic ground in his three decades as a working animator; and it doesn't take long to recognize his work when you see it. “The Ren & Stimpy Show” caused visible distress to Nickelodeon in the 1990s, and lingers in the memory of anyone who caught its U.K. airings on BBC Two. Before then, Mr. Kricfalusi had already worked uncomfortably for Filmation and Hanna-Barbera, and found a much more agreeable niche alongside legendary animator Ralph Bakshi. More recently, the man usually known just as John K. has directed music videos, animated the opening couch gag for an episode of “The Simpsons,” and continued to get into occasional trouble with broadcasters.

Mr. Kricfalusi came to the Encounters International Film Festival in Bristol to talk about some of his favorite animated films. We took the opportunity to ask him about the joys of old animation, why the Internet is frustratingly slow and his very dim view of motion-capture.

Q. You’re in Bristol for the annual Desert Island Flicks presentation. Can you name a few of your picks? What does a flick need to do to be on the list?

A. It needs to grip me in an emotional vice. It needs to give me lots of ideas for things I could do that I hadn’t thought of before. The list would include some classic live-action films with actors like Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, Burl Ives and Robert Ryan. And cartoons by Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, some Walter Lantz. And 1930s cartoons with Betty Boop, Popeye, Oswald the Rabbit and Bosko, cartoons in the rubber-hose style.

Q. Bristol has a strong tradition of animation. Are there any British animators or animation styles that you admire?

A. I love Jamie Hewlett and his team’s work. I like Nick Park. I don’t know everything there is to know about English animation but hope to get the beginnings of an education when I get there. I would love to watch Halas and Batchelor’s “DoDo the Kid From Outer Space” again. Is it available on DVD there? Remind me to buy it!

Q. What are you working on at the moment?

A. Some digital toys. Also pitching a movie and some TV shows. I just finished a couch gag for “The Simpsons” and some station I.D.s for Adult Swim.

Q. How healthy is animation as an art form right now? Which animators currently working are setting the pace; and which do you admire?

A. I don’t know. I’m very retro. Most of my favorite stuff was done before I was born.

Q. You have been known to have run-ins with broadcasters and regulators in the past. Do you feel like a rebel, or like part of the animation establishment today? Does the profession need troublemakers in order to really achieve the things it’s capable of?

A. I’m not a troublemaker. I was just born at the wrong time. In the 1930s and ’40s, I would have fitted right in. My stuff tends to be too different for the mainstream networks and studios, and also too mainstream for the independent film scene. I’m in limbo, even though the fans seem to like it.

I keep trying to bring back custom-made animation at a time when everything is formula. We don’t even animate in the U.S. any more. Most mainstream animation today isn’t really “animated,” it’s just moved slightly.

Q. The great Mr. Bakshi celebrated his 73rd birthday recently. He’s a pivotal figure and a fascinating character. How do you look back on your time working together?

A. I owe him a lot. They were wild times, very creative, very emotionally charged — no quiet days. Without Ralph and his Mighty Mouse series, nothing would have changed. Saturday morning cartoons would still look like Filmation cartoons, and we wouldn’t have “SpongeBob” or “South Park,” “Family Guy” or anything that came after.

Q. You once said in an interview with the A.V. Club that live-action movies were just a headache. Now that 3-D creations like “The Adventures of Tintin” are deliberately blurring the lines between live-action and animation, has your opinion changed? Do you think the current motion-capture films count as animated works at all?

A. I never said live-action movies are a headache. I actually like live-action movies a lot more than animated movies, especially live-action movies from the 1930s to the 1950s. Animated movies tend to be really bland and boring for me. Motion-capture is an insult to anybody with eyeballs in their heads.

Q. Has the Internet changed what you do and how you do it? Is it a valid medium for cartoons and cartoonists?

A. It hasn’t been taken advantage of yet. The Internet has so much potential and promise, and has yet to show it in my opinion. It is the slowest moving new medium that has ever been invented. It’s already 20 years old and still has no professional mass entertainment, just random scattered user-created home movies or repurposed stuff from other media.

Compare that to how fast movies grew, or radio and television, or comic books for that matter. When we started making Internet cartoons in the late 1990s, I thought sponsors were sure to take immediate advantage of the interactivity and lack of regulations and see the creative power of this supposedly limitless medium. I worked out a whole simple business model that would make creators, the audience and the sponsors happy and I’ve yet to find someone who will do it.

Q. Do you draw inspiration or motivation from other arts? What else would you take to the desert island along with the flicks if you could?

A. The list is too long to put in one article: The Beatles of course, Sinatra, Count Basie, Burl Ives, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Hank Williams, the Louvin brothers, on and on. I’d bring my collections of comic strips: “Peanuts,” “B.C.,” “The Wizard of Id,” “Pogo,” “Andy Capp.” I’d bring classic musicals starring Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and more, along with TV shows by Benny Hill, Monty Python, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Get Smart,” “Colgate Comedy Hour,” “Your Show of Shows,” “All in the Family,” “The Honeymooners.” And I would bring a guitar and a trunk full of strings so I could yodel to the monkeys — until they decide to eat me.

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